#300. Crime in Boston

Cities are known for many things. We associate Paris with art, New York with theatre, and Washington D.C. with politics. Unfortunately, sometimes cities can be recognized for their less-wholesome aspects. Despite Boston’s numerous tourist and cultural attractions, many people associate it with crime. While the Italian-based mafia tended to be based out of New York City, the Irish-based mob usually congregated in Boston. As a result, there have been several films which use the crime-filled underground of Boston as their backdrop and central conflict. That’s not to say that every film about crime in Boston is about the mafia; in fact, Spotlight (2015) highlighted the Boston Globe’s uncovering of a sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. Still, the “exciting” action films tend to focus on the mafia. This week’s two films examine mafia crime in Boston.

The TownThe Town
Year: 2010
Rating: R
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

Because the mafia is outside the law, sometimes they can perform actions to bring about their own form of justice. Especially with a tight-knit group like the Irish-Americans who control the mafia in Boston, the ties that bind them together are based in their nationality. This notion of an extended family means that members will do whatever it takes to look out for one of their own. Sometimes the legal process is too slow, so they’ll take matters into their own hands. The Boondock Saints (1999) is a prime example of this, as two brothers take on the Russian mafia to clean up Boston. Similarly, the friendships built through growing up in some of Boston’s tough neighborhoods, like Charlestown, can lead people to join the mafia as their only means of making a living. In The Town (2010), we find how difficult it can be to escape this life of crime.

Fergus Colm (Pete Postlethwaite) is the leader of an Irish-American crime ring that runs out of the Charlestown section of Boston. Four childhood friends work underneath him, including Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy MacGloan (Slaine), and Dez Elden (Owen Burke). These four rob a bank and take the manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), hostage, eventually releasing her unharmed. Unfortunately, not only does she live in the same neighborhood and could potentially identify Jem, but Doug develops feelings for her as well. Meanwhile, FBI Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is closing in on the group and manages to kill or capture most of them during a heist at Fenway Park. Not wanting to put Claire in danger, Doug flees to Florida to try and find his estranged mother, leaving Claire with the stolen money and the wish to meet up again.

The DepartedThe Departed
Year: 2006
Rating: R
Length: 151 minutes / 2.52 hours

As mentioned earlier, the connections of the Irish-Americans in Boston lead to some strange bedfellows. The famous mobster, Whitey Bulger, was portrayed by Johnny Depp in Black Mass (2015), a film that showed how he was able to evade capture for so long: a South Boston friend involved with the FBI keeping Bulger a few steps ahead of the feds. Similarly, the connections between the Boston mafia and those who are tasked to take them down are often tightly tied together. These familial connections muddle the waters of characters’ moral intentions. Should they remain faithful to the group that gave them their identity and heritage, or should they bring these criminals to justice? This complex and twist-laden plot is best attributed to Martin Scorsese’s only Best Picture win, The Departed (2006). After all, the best director to handle a film about the mafia is none other than Martin Scorsese.

Growing up in South Boston, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is brought under the wing of Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), a mobster who uses Colin to infiltrate the police. Years later, Colin has joined a task force focused on bringing down the very mafia that raised him. Meanwhile, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is recruited by the police to go undercover into the mob because he also has family ties to the seedy world of organized crime. As Billy and Colin interact in their different spheres, their loyalties are questioned as each tries to figure out who the respective moles in their organizations are. The back-and-forth game of cat and mouse (or rat) continues until they eventually learn of the true identities of the other. In a bloody string of murders, both the police and the mafia are left with losses, revealing the harsh reality of crime in Boston: nobody gets out alive.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 mafia movies in Massachusetts

#299. Ben Affleck

Have you ever tried to be something you’re not? Do you know someone who has succeeded at one talent, only to try and capitalize on the success by attempting a different talent? While Hollywood is filled with actors who want to be directors and directors who want to be actors, very few of them can succeed in both realms at the same time. Take Clint Eastwood, for instance. He was a great actor back in his heyday, and now he’s a great director, but there wasn’t much time where he was both. Somewhat similarly, Ben Affleck has shown he is an excellent director as of late, but his early acting efforts were not quite as exemplary. Perhaps Affleck has finally found his niche after being lauded for his writing skills early in his career. Of course, he still enjoys his time in front of the camera as well. This week’s two films look at the directing and acting of Ben Affleck.

Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 120 minutes / 2.0 hours

At age 25, Ben Affleck (along with his friend, Matt Damon) won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Good Will Hunting (1997). While he had acted in a few films before, including two by director Kevin Smith (Mallrats (1995) and Chasing Amy (1997)), none of his roles could ever be taken seriously. Instead of pursuing his writing, Affleck ended up appearing in numerous films, most of which were forgettable or terrible (most still say Gigli (2003) is the worst film ever made). And yet, when he started directing full-length films, his acting seemed to improve almost overnight. Within five years from his directorial debut, Affleck would win his second Oscar, this time for the Best Picture, Argo (2012). While he also appeared in the leading role of this film, his performance was much better than most of his previous attempts.

Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is astounded to learn there are no viable plans to rescue the six escapees of the Iranian hostage crisis. While his exfiltration skills are top notch, he doesn’t have any better ideas. After a phone call with his son, while Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) is playing in the background, he is struck with inspiration. Using the cover of a Canadian film crew performing site surveys for a sci-fi film, Tony heads to Iran to help coach the six individuals through his plan. Even though all the prep work in Hollywood has been done to make the film look like it is real, the hoax only works on the ground if the six diplomats can manage to convince the Iranian security forces that it’s truly what they’re there for. In the moment of truth, the group head to Tehran International Airport and attempt to leave the country the only way they can.

The TownThe Town
Year: 2010
Rating: R
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

In 2007, Ben Affleck put on his writing cap and wrote the screenplay for Gone Baby Gone. Despite having directed a short film much earlier in his career, Gone Baby Gone was his first feature-length film as a director. While he did not appear in the film, leaving the leading role to his brother, Casey Affleck, when 2010 rolled around, he was back in front of the camera (as well as behind it) for The Town. Once again, audiences could see that Affleck does have a talent for writing, as he wrote the screenplay for The Town as well. Despite the uproar of his casting as Bruce Wayne / Batman in the DC cinematic universe, this role, along with Nick Dunne in Gone Girl (2014), have shown Affleck takes his acting much more seriously now, perhaps as a result of his directing. Time will tell if his most recent writing and directorial effort, Live by Night (2017) will be as well received as Gone Baby Gone and The Town.

Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is just one of a group of friends who grew up together and are now partners in crime. Along with Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy MacGloan (Slaine), and Dez Elden (Owen Burke), the four friends rob a bank and take the manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), hostage. After they release her, they realize she lives in their neighborhood and could potentially identify them to the police. To find out what she knows, Doug starts following her; but eventually, the two of them develop feelings for each other. Unfortunately, since the four friends are still rooted in the world of crime, they continue to make robberies. Because these heists still occur, they eventually find that the FBI has figured out who they are. The Feds perform a sting at Fenway based on intelligence they received from a jilted ex, with few of the crew managing to escape.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 deftly directed pieces by Ben Affleck

Bacon #: 2 (Shakespeare in Love / Colin Firth -> Where the Truth Lies / Kevin Bacon)

#198. Jeremy Renner

Have you ever noticed that some actors just appear out of nowhere? One year, they’re doing minor roles, then the next they’re on the red carpet, nominated for an acting Oscar. Depending on how long they’ve been acting before they break onto the A-list scene, their career will often flourish and grow from this point forward. The visual recognition of someone really helps to bolster their involvement in bigger-budget films, thus propelling them further into stardom. The trick then remains of maintaining that visibility in cinema. Some can do it well and eventually win the awards they were nominated for when they arrived on the scene. Others burn out and aren’t seen much after a few years. Jeremy Renner is definitely the former of these two scenarios, and this week we will highlight two of his leading roles.

The Bourne LegacyThe Bourne Legacy
Year: 2012
Rating: PG-13
Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours

One way to maintain your popularity with audiences is to become involved with a franchise. This way, you will always have a role to fall back on if your other projects don’t pan out. After Jeremy Renner hit the scene in the late 2000s, he was picked up on two long-running and popular franchises. These two franchises put him alongside some famous actors, which means he’s still in a supporting role for now. In the Mission Impossible franchise, Renner portrays William Brandt, the chief analyst to the IMF Secretary, whereas, in The Avengers (2012), he portrays Clint Barton (codename: Hawkeye), an archer agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. These two roles fit in nicely with his involvement in another action franchise: the Bourne series. Instead of a support role, he takes on the main spotlight in the fourth film for this franchise that relied on Matt Damon for three movies.

In the world of covert government operations, the Department of Defense has its own “super soldier” program in “Operation Outcome.” This is a different program from the Treadstone and Blackbriar initiatives run by the CIA, the very same of which created the titular Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). One of Operation Outcome’s best agents is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), who is in Alaska for a training exercise. Even though the DoD program uses chemical enhancements of its soldiers, the fact that the CIA programs are now under increased scrutiny causes them to shut down Outcome. After surviving a drone attack on the Alaskan cabin where he was staying, Cross soon finds out that the “chems” he uses for his job are the only thing keeping him alive. He’s addicted and must now carefully find his way back to society to get more of his pills, all the while evading government detection.

The Hurt LockerThe Hurt Locker
Year: 2008
Rating: R
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

Before The Hurt Locker (2008), Jeremy Renner was in a lot of films that didn’t do very well, critically speaking. Most see his involvement with this Best Picture as his arrival as a movie star. The nomination he received for Best Actor in this film was also evidence to this as well. It wasn’t long before he was nominated again, this time for Best Supporting Actor in The Town (2010). Even though he wasn’t nominated for anything in American Hustle (2013), the fact that he is regularly cast in films that are seen as award-worthy shows he has figured out how to prolong his career. The strategy is twofold: act in “fun” films to get audiences to like you, while also making sure to act in “serious” films to get the critics to like you. I look forward to seeing if this strategy will pay off for him as he continues his career.

A fitting match to the aforementioned The Bourne Legacy (2012), the opening quote of The Hurt Locker is quite apt, “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” William James (Jeremy Renner) is a Sergeant First Class who is assigned to Iraq to lead an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit for the U.S. Army. After a series of close calls and diffused bombs, it becomes clear James does what he wants, regardless of the consequences to him or his team. Unfortunately for his team, he gets results. The thrill of adventure soon disappears as he is sent home to his wife, Connie James (Evangeline Lilly). Raising their infant son together doesn’t provide nearly enough excitement, so William decides to go back to Iraq to do what he loves: diffusing the bombs that threaten the safety of everyone.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 remarkable Renner roles

Bacon #: 2 (American Hustle / Robert DeNiro -> Sleepers / Kevin Bacon)